Monday, May 31, 2010

FASCINATING PRODUCTION OF AGAMEMNON BY NEW THEATRE COMPANY

Laura Nordin, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio and Michelle Alexander in Agamemnon

Reviewed by James Karas
jameskaras@rogers.com

You can see Aeschylus’s Agamemnon in Toronto!

You may consider the exclamation mark a bit dramatic but try to recall the last time you could see any play by Aeschylus in southern Ontario.

In fact, productions of Greek tragedy in Toronto are about as frequent as balanced budgets – they are almost impossible to find. Or so I thought until a couple of weeks ago and I lived to be proven wrong. The corrective action has been taken by Michael Wighton who has directed a production of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in a church hall.

Agamemnon was first produced in 458 BC and it is the first part of the Oresteia, the only surviving trilogy from Ancient Greece. It is by all accounts one of the great works of Western literature.

We don’t have much information about how Agamemnon was performed in Aeschylus’ time but we do know that three actors wearing masks played all the roles and there was a Chorus of perhaps a dozen men who spoke, sang and danced. The change of character was indicated by wearing a different mask and no doubt through changes in vocal intonation.

The play has six characters in addition to the Chorus. Wighton produces the play with only three actors who play all the parts. His is a bold re-imagination of the play and quite an achievement. He cuts out the part of Cassandra but otherwise seems to be faithful to the text in Ted Hughes’ translation.

The three actors are Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Laura Nordin and Michelle Alexander. They tackle Aeschylus’ complex language and Hughes’ taut poetry with vigour and conviction. They enunciate clearly and modulate their voices almost operatically. They can tell the difference between speaking verse and mouthing prose and the result is a superb reading of the play.

Under the circumstances, the three actors play the Chorus in addition to all the other roles. There is some chanting, gesturing, screaming and dance movements but for the most part the Chorus becomes another speaking role in this production. The characters of the play are played by more than one actor. Clytemnestra, the central character, is played by all three actors.

There are some quirky moments in the production. One of the choral odes is performed as shadow theatre. A sheet is drawn across the stage and the actors recite their lines and perform dance movements behind the sheet. That is effective enough but it is followed by a rather silly scene where a panel representing the sea is raised and when ships are mentioned papier-mâché models of ships are shown. This produced some giggles and it seemed like a silly gimmick that has no place in Greek tragedy.

Ted Hughes has indicated an Interval near the middle of the play and Wighton has decided to have someone walk across the playing area with a sign that reads “Interval.” The play is performed without an intermission and the “Interval” sign produced giggles.

This is the debut production of Theatre Cipher and it looks like Greek tragedy on a very thin shoestring. The theatre is the hall of a church with a few raised seats that can accommodate about 50 people.
There is a raised area at the back that serves for a stage but the action takes place in the open area close to the audience. Props are minimal and costumes are non-descript.

One cannot have Greek tragedy without a Chorus and perhaps other paraphernalia. About half the lines of the play belong to the Chorus, after all. Michael Wighton has proved, however, that an imaginative director with three superb actors who pay attention to the language of the play can provide a fascinating approach to Greek tragedy.

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Agamemnon by Aeschylus opened on May 22 and will play until June 5, 2010 at the Church Hall, Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church, 823 Manning Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.theatrecipher.com/

Friday, May 28, 2010

WAITING FOR THE PARADE AND FAITH HEALER FROM SOULPEPPER

Fiona Byrne, Krystin Pellerin, Michelle Monteith in Waiting for the Parade. Photo: Sian Richards

Reviewed by James Karas
jameskaras@rogers.com

Five very different women are waiting for the parade. We area in Calgary during the early 1940’s and the women are waiting for World War II to finish and for the soldiers to come home. Playwright John Murrell built his 1977 play Waiting For The Parade on that rather simple premise. Soulpepper has staged a revival of the play in the Young Centre, in the Distillery District.

The five women tell their stories directly to the audience or engage in the everyday routines while waiting for the war to end and give us details about their lives.

Margaret (Nancy Palk) is an old, tall woman who is dying of loneliness. Her husband was imprisoned before the war and is now dead. One of her sons is in the army and the other one is arrested and imprisoned for distributing seditious flyers.

Catherine (Michelle Monteith) is a factory worker whose husband volunteered to go to war. He is declared missing in action. In her loneliness, Catherine takes up with another man and perhaps many other men.

Janet (Deborah Drakefield) is the officious and self-important supervisor of the work done by the other women for the war effort. She is a hard taskmaster, probably to compensate for her husband who stayed behind to read the news on the radio rather than join the army.

Eve (Krystin Pellerin) is married to a much older man who could not enlist. She is a frustrated woman who, like the rest of the others, is trying to cope. She is also a teacher and equally frustrated at her young students joining the army.

Marta (Fiona Byrne) is the daughter of a German with Nazi sympathies. He has been put in a detention camp and she is ostracized by the community because she is German. Murrell does not shy from depicting the bigotry and ugliness of society towards someone whom they consider different.

The vignettes of life during the war and before are evocative and moving. Murrell eschews any sentimentality and he certainly does not go for the “brave women that kept the home fires burning” syndrome.

The play moves slowly as we learn about the lives of the five women and the ordinary problems that they face in their daily life. The stories range from loneliness, to promiscuity to shame to frustration and physical danger.

Joseph Ziegler directs the five talented actors with finesse. All five women are convincing as characters and convey their lives quite well.

The set consists of a number of wood-paneled closets somewhere in a Red Cross facility where the women roll gauzes and produce other items for the war. Above the panels hang a number of soldiers’ uniforms and helmets. They are a vivid reminder that the men who wear those uniforms so far away from home are the reason for the women’s way of life.

Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, also playing at the Young Centre brings to mind an exercise in advanced creative writing. The project is to create three characters who describe similar events that all three experienced together.

Friel would come up with a marvelous character named Frank who is a faith healer. He is a talented performer, a mountebank, a charlatan and, at times, perhaps, a healer. He has some unsavoury characteristics but he fascinating.

His companion Grace is equally interesting. The daughter of a judge, she puts up with Frank’s travelling show and there is no rational explanation for her actions.

The third character is Teddy, the manager of the travelling show.

Each has a story to tell and Friel has written one lengthy monologue each for Grace and Teddy and two for Frank. He opens and closes the play.

Some of the incidents described, especially from different viewpoints are interesting and Friel’s prose can be excellent but is this really theatre? There is not all that much to distinguish it from a dramatic reading of a short story.

One cannot complain about the quality of the performances. The intense, dramatic showman Frank of Stuart Hughes is a performance to remember. Brenda Robins’ Grace is superb and Diego Matamoros as Teddy makes a very funny, sometimes endearing but always put-upon manager.

I must admit that during the lengthy monologues I found my mind wandering on occasion. Theatre is supposed to dramatize and bring prose or poetry to life. Here we got the prose where the enactment of some of the incidents described would have been incomparably better.

Director Gina Wilkinson mustered the fine performances from the actors but in the end it was a disappointing night at the theatre.

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Waiting for the Parade by John Murrell continues until May 29, 2010: Faith Healer by Brian Friel continues until June 4, 2010 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A WEEK AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE IN LONDON – Part 2

ALEX JENNINGS as Henry (Benjamin Britten) and RICHARD GRIFFITHS as Fitz (WH Auden) in The Habit of Art. Photograph by Johan Persson


Reviewed by James Karas
jameskaras@rogers.com

The Habit of Art is theatre at its best. This is Alan Bennett’s new play now showing at the National Theatre’s Lyttleton stage in London.

What justifies such praise? Is it just temporary enthusiasm after an enjoyable evening out or is there enough substance to the play and the production to justify the panegyric?

The answer is “yes” to all. The play is about two famous Englishmen of the twentieth century, the poet W. H. Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten. The very idea of producing a play about two such people would induce snores. In the hands of Bennett, you are guaranteed some very witty dialogue at least. You get that and more.

Rather than giving us the more gory parts of their lives (they were both homosexuals with a penchant for young boys), Bennett looks at them as colourful human beings without avoiding the dirt under their fingernails.

Bennett becomes a character in his own play (played by Elliot Levey). The Author is watching a rehearsal of his play at the National Theatre. The director is missing and Kay, the Stage Manager (Frances de la Tour) is putting the actors through the script.

Richard Griffiths plays the actor Fitz who plays the part of Auden. Alex Jennings plays the actor Henry who plays the part of Britten. Adrian Scarborough plays the actor Donald who plays Humphrey Carpenter a former BBC interviewer and the biographer of both Britten and Auden.

In other words we have layer upon layer of reality and unreality. The characters in the Author’s play that is being rehearsed become the actors in The Habit of Art.

Richard Griffiths as Fitz and the bizarre Auden gives a defining performance and it would be difficult to imagine anyone else trying the roles. Auden is a boozy, filthy slob (he urinates in the sink) who brings young boys to his residence for oral sex. He is also a brilliant poet and raconteur.

Alex Jennings is the composer who consults Auden about the libretto for his opera Death in Venice. We are treated to a brilliant discussion of the Thomas Mann’s novel and the function of a libretto.

Stephen Wight does a splendid job as the young male prostitute as does Scarborough in the role of Carpenter.

Frances de la Tour has a voice and an accent that I find simply delicious. It is like a superlative cabernet sauvignon wine, properly aged and aerated, which diffuses its taste and aroma upon being swirled around your mouth.

The Habit of Art combines those rare qualities of wit, literate fun, low humour and a theatricality that I unbeatable.

Murder, lust, greed, treachery, rape, poisoning - these were the staples of Jacobean tragedy. They were also the staples of many of Shakespeare’s plays but he did it much better.

Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) was a prolific writer but only a few of his plays are produced with any regularity. His 1621 tragedy Women Beware Women has received a major revival at the National Theatre.

The clerk Leantio (Samuel Barnett) marries the beautiful and wealthy Bianca (Lauren O’Neill). She gives up wealth and status for love. That’s one plot strand. Next: Isabella (Vanessa Kirby) is forced by her father Fabritio (James Hayes) to marry the moronic Ward (Harry Melling), who makes up in acreage what he lacks in brains.

These marriages go astray pretty quickly. The Duke of Florence (Richard Lintern) sees Bianca and falls in lust with her. Livia (Harriet Walter) arranges for the two to be alone and the Duke “seduces” Bianca. Rape is such an ugly word.

Livia also arranges for Isabella to have an affair with Hippolito, her brother and Isabella’s uncle.
As if that were not enough, Livia ensnares the cuckolded Leantio into her gentle arms and the stage is set for bloodshed.

Director Marianne Elliott and Designer Lez Brotherston have opted for a modern dress production on a monumental set that is all black. The revolving stage can indicate the ducal palace or less palatial scenes and it is very effective.

The plot unravels methodically with superb ensemble acting. Full marks go to Walter as the conniving and evil Livia who can be so charming when she wants to. The other two women are just as much victims of circumstances as aiders and abetters in the evils that befall them.

In a patriarchal society the real pigs are the men and you can choose between Hippolito, the incestuous uncle, the lustful and brutal duke or some of the other creeps of the play.

Really Old, Like Forty Five by Tamsin Oglesby playing in the small Cottesloe Thetare has a misleading title. It sounds like a light comedy with jokes about getting old, wetting your pants, farting etc. It is not. The play is about dementia and although there are many witty lines, it is a deadly serious play.

Perhaps it is two plays but it’s a muddle in any event. It takes place sometime in the future and we have the story of three siblings who are starting it to lose it. Alice (Marcia Warren), Lyn (Judy Parfitt) and their brother Robbie (Gawn Granger) display all the horrible signs of dementia.

We meet some members of their family and the final scenes are in a nursing home with all the concomitant horrors.

The scenes with the siblings are interchanged with scenes showing Monroe (Paul Ritter), a government policy official with an accountant (Paul Bazely) and a researcher (Tanya Franks) address various aspects of aging and dementia.

This is documentary and illustrative theatre about what the future (really the present) holds for the aging population. Interesting and depressing but not very good theatre.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MARIA STUARDA FINALLY COMES TO TORONTO AND HIGH TIME TOO

Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Elisabetta and Serena Farnocchia as Maria Stuarda. Photo: Michael Cooper

Reviewed by James Karas
jameskaras@rogers.com

Mary and Elizabeth were cousins – first cousins, once removed, to be sure. Elizabeth was 11 years older than Mary and the two never met, not even at a family picnic. Eventually Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant and the latter was beheaded as was the fashion of the time.

These women were no ordinary mortals. Mary was Queen of Scotland and France and with some luck may have become Queen of England as well. Cousin Elizabeth I terminated that ambition with an axe.

All of which is just fine except for the fact that the two never met. Friedrich Schiller did not like that either and solved the problem in 1800 by writing a play in which the two queens did meet and au revoir historical accuracy.

To be fair, Schiller was more interested in examining philosophical questions such as free will and acceptance of responsibility. Questions like was Elizabeth a prisoner of circumstances and was she able to exercise her free will when she decided upon the fate of Mary? Did she accept responsibility for her actions? Did have one up morally by accepting responsibility for the murder of her husband? Heavy stuff.

A few decades later Giuseppe Bardari, a 17-year old writer (and future chief of police of Naples) fashioned Schiller’s play into a libretto for Gaetano Donizetti and after a somewhat tortuous history it did become his 43rd opera. Schiller’s philosophical baggage was blown away by Donizetti’s marvelous music as was all pretense to historical accuracy. Sadly enough, this is the first time that Maria Stuarda has been produced in Canada.

Maria Stuarda is far from being the best work in the bel canto repertoire but it has enough beautiful melodies and choruses to make you want to see it again and again.

The opera has two major soprano roles in Mary and Elizabeth. The merciless Elizabeth is frequently sung by a mezzo but a soprano with a reasonably big voice and sense of drama is perfectly acceptable. Bulgarian soprano Alexandrina Pendatchanska has a lovely, creamy voice that may be just a tad small for the role. She sang beautifully but was short of the dramatic expression that the role demands.

The dramatic passion that Pendatchanska lacks, Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia possesses and delivers in the title role. I wished that the two had changed roles. Farnocchia would have delivered the fire power that Pendatchanska was short of and the latter would have been a sweeter Mary.

American tenor Eric Cutler was a competent Leicester but he has some awkward walking habits. He is a heroic character (both women love him) but he gave the impression of someone who was not quite sure of his footing. American baritone Weston Hurt was a solid Lord Cecil as was bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Talbot.

The set by Benoit Dugardyn looked like the interior of an Elizabethan theatre. There is a raised stage in the middle and curtains that are opened and closed reinforcing the idea of a theatre. The set gave the production a nice Elizabethan flavour but the drawbridges that were raised and lowered somewhat haltingly were not as successful.

The costumes designed by Ingeborg Bernerth and worn by Elizabeth and her retinue looked like round coffee tables (wobbly dining room tables was my companion’s description). Paintings of Elizabeth I and ladies of the court do show such dresses but somehow they looked rather awkward in this production.

Director Stephen Lawless made the singers lounge on the steps of the raised stage a bit too often, I thought. But this is bel canto and you have to let the singers get their notes out instead of worrying about plot and such minutiae as acting. There were some highly effective scenes including the final tableau where Mary raises her arms as if she were crucified.

Antony Walker conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and the COC Chorus was simply outstanding.

By the way the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is relatively short but it does give an opportunity for some fireworks. Go for the whole opera and not the imaginary confrontation.

The important thing is that we finally got a Maria Stuarda in Toronto and a very good one at that.
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Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti opened on May 1 and was performed eight times until May 30, 2010 on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671. http://www.coc.ca/

Monday, May 10, 2010

IN SEARCH OF GREEK DRAMA OR WHERE IN THE WORLD IS HAMMERSMITH

Lisa Stuart as Antigone and Matthew Wade, Chris Gunter, Robert Finlay - Chorus.
Photo: Yannis Katsaris

Reviewed by James Karas

You want to see some Greek drama, right?

Your train does not stop in Greece and you have access to the three cities that mount the largest number of theatrical productions – let’s call it the Triple Crown of Theatre in English – that is Toronto, New York and London.

You start with No. 3, Toronto, a city with a large Greek community, a vibrant theatrical scene and … you come up empty-handed. There is no Greek drama to be had in Canada’s cultural capital.

You are not faint-hearted so you try New York, the Mecca of theatre in North America. Between Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-off Broadway and the Hudson River there has to be at least one production of an Ancient Greek play. Right? Wrong. Even the Classic Stage Company that usually produced Greek plays has gone AWOL or at least Russian.

That does it. You will simply have to go to Numero Uno, London, the theatrical capital of the world. What with West End, Off West End, Fringe and who knows what other venues there has to be enough productions of Greek drama to require the fingers on both hands. Surely those extra-judicially borrowed and temporarily stored in the British Museum Parthenon aka Elgin Marbles encourage production of Greek tragedy and comedy.

There are at least 100 plays that you can see in London. This is in addition to the 38 musicals. If you want to see everything in ten days, you will need to go to the theatre about 14 times a day. You give up that idea quickly and start scouring the lists for Greek drama.

You find only one production and that in Hammersmith. The population center bearing that name is on the subway line and you give a sigh of relief at the thought of getting there without any Odyssean adventures.

In fact you have struck gold. You have found the Theatre Lab Company’s production of Antigone at the Riverside Studios. The production is directed by Anastasia Revi, TLC’s Artistic Director.

Every production of Ancient Greek tragedy is largely a creation of the director’s imagination. We know very little about production practices in the fifth century and know nothing about the music, singing and dancing that were part of the production. Actors wore masks then but rarely put them on these days and we have to settle for a translation and a very different milieu from the Theatre of Dionysus of around 441 B.C.

Revi is faithful to the text and she uses Robert Fagles’ poetic translation. She has limited acting space but makes remarkable use of what is at hand.

Lisa Stuart is an intense, dramatic and reckless Antigone in contrast to the down to earth Ismene of Kathryn Carpenter.

Skinhead George Siena, dressed in black, makes a frightful Creon. He looks and acts the dictator, threatening, sometimes cajoling and always menacing.

The Chorus of Antigone is supposed to consists of Theban elders. Revi either could not find any elder actors or deliberately chose to have a Chorus consisting of three young men. They are athletic and do some dancing and chanting. They are amazingly effective and show what talent and imagination can do. The Chorus is the most difficult aspect of Greek tragedy to deal with and it frequently bombs.

Tobias Deacon made a wonderful and very humorous Sentry. One does not associate too many laughs with Greek tragedy but the poor, terrified Sentry who has to tell Creon that his orders have been disobeyed can be quite funny. Deacon was.

The ageless Tiressias was played by a very young John Buckingham, nude above the waist. I don’t think anyone has ever imagined the blind Tiresias as a man in his twenties.

One of the major strengths of the production was the music composed and performed by Anne Malone and Noah Young. They were on stage all the time, seated on the side. Much of the music consisted of simple but evocative percussion and some vocal composition.

The play takes place in front of the palace of Oedipus but Designer Maira Vazeou has opted for a derelict house with broken windows rather than a more imposing structure.

Revi has been the Artistic Director of TLC since 1998 and the company seems to have made the rounds of a number of European cities. They even touched ground in New York but they have yet to make it to Canada. Too bad.
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Antigone by Sophocles played until May 2, 2010 at the Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith, London. http://www.theatrelab.co.uk/.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

HAMLET LIVE FROM THE MET WITH GREAT SINGING AND TOO MANY GHOSTS

Marlis Petersen and Simon Keenleyside in Hamlet. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera


“It’s a mystery” says this Hamlet as he launches into his “To be or not to be” aria. This is not Shakespeare’s Hamlet but Ambroise Thomas’ opera. Chances are you have not seen it or even heard of it. You may say that it is not in the top 100 most-produced-operas list. In fact that last time it was produced by the Metropolitan Opera in New York was in 1897. The mystery in this case is not the heart of Hamlet but why has Thomas’s work been ignored for so long.

It is on now and if you can’t dash out to Lincoln Center you can see it in a theatre near you on April 24, 2010 when the live telecast is reprised.

The opera has some great music and two great roles, one for a baritone (Hamlet) and one for a soprano (Ophelia). The role of Gertrude provides some excellent opportunities for a mezzo soprano but it is not as big a part as the other two.

The Metropolitan Opera has struck gold in all three roles. The kingpin is baritone Simon Keenlyside in the title role. He has a fine voice and looks the way you imagine Hamlet. He is a bit disheveled, distraught, confused, slim, agile and, yes, mysterious. In the hands of a less talented singing actor, Hamlet would look wooden and unsatisfactory. This is not a role for a baritone who strikes poses. It is wholly acted and sung performance of the first order.

Soprano Marlis Peterson was a last minute replacement for the more famous Natalie Dessay and was greeted with the usual fears and expectations. Will she bomb or will she give a memorable performance? Happily for her and the audience, Peterson does a marvelous job. She has a pure, clear, lustrous voice and made a superb Ophelia. Thomas gives Ophelia an extended Mad Scene that provides all kinds of opportunities for vocal and acting showmanship. Peterson does a masterly job as she struts around the stage stabbing her chest and slashing her wrists. There is blood all over her white dress as she finally collapses. Lucia di Lammermoor eat your heart out.

Mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore was very impressive as Queen Gertrude, the woman who poisoned her husband, married his brother and was crowned queen of Denmark. Larmore gave a dramatic and terrific performance. The only small issue with her is that she has a bad habit when not singing of pursing her lips and sucking her cheeks in. Somebody should tell her to stop it. The hideous crown that they plopped on her head does not help her looks even though she is a very attractive woman.

Veteran bass James Morris sang the role of Claudius. It is not a particularly important role and I found his voice mostly colorless at the beginning. I liked him better near the end when his voice resonated much better.

Tenor Toby Spence presented an athletic and well-sung Laertes.

The quality of the production in general is questionable. Directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser have produced the opera in Barcelona with Keenlyside and Dessay and it is available on DVD. The current production was initially done for the Grand Theatre of Geneva. They seem to have cornered the market on Hamlet.

They have opted for a production with a minimal set and Lighting Designer Christopher Foray has chosen darkness over light any time of the day or night.

Except for the Mad Scene where a couch, a chandelier and some flowers are in evidence, for the rest of the performance there is almost no set to be seen. A couple of backdrops are put across the stage but what you see all too often is singing heads with nothing but darkness in the background. They could be in outer space or a bunch of ghosts for all one knows.

In other words there is very little context to what you are watching. The great confrontation between Hamlet and his mother in her bedroom could have taken place anywhere. She has no furniture at all except for a portrait of Claudius. Yet, when we get to the grave diggers’ scene, the directors feel it is necessary for a wheel barrow full of dirt to be shovelled on the stage.

As if that were not bad enough, Brian Large who directed the performance for the screen decided to avoid any long shots as if they are the bubonic plague. In the opening scene we see the huge chorus, mostly in the dark, but in an impressive array. After that it is largely head shots with nothing but darkness in the background. It is unnecessary and downright silly. We are watching the performance on the huge screen and we do not want a single head filling up most of it.

I should mention that they do avoid the “happy ending” of the original libretto.
Louis Langree conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
Let’s hope we will not have to wait for another century for the next production.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR TELLS HISTORY OF WORLD WAR I IN MUSIC HALL STYLE

Brendan Wall, Oliver Dennis, Gregory Prest - Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Oh What A Lovely War
is not your conventional musical by many standards. All you have to do is look at who created it to realize that this is not just a team effort but a communal endeavour. It was created by Joan Littlewood, Theatre Workshop and Charles Chilton; Research by Gerry Raffles after treatments by Ted Allan and Others. How many people does that make?

The musical opened in London in 1963 and was made into a movie in 1969 directed by Richard Attenborough.

Oh What A Lovely War attempts to give a bird’s eye view of World War I by using popular songs from the early part of the twentieth century. It tells the story of the War from its declaration in 1914 to the bitter and catastrophic end in 1918. The songs and the dancing give the appearance of treating an awful subject with a light hand. R. C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End about life in the trenches was the usual way of representing the war at the time. The idea of songs and satire was quite new.

The current production adds a welcome Canadian angle by mentioning Vimy Ridge. The Canadian soldiers are advised not to go over the ridge not because of insufficient ammunition (and not because they will be killed, presumably) but because of a shortage of coffins. The musical ends with a catalogue of Canadian soldiers killed in the war being projected on the back of the stage.

The songs and the vignettes mirror the high optimism and fervent patriotism at the beginning of the war. “Row, Row, Row,” “Belgium Puts the Kibosh on the Kaiser” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” are belted out with gusto. There is even an extraordinary display of common humanity when the British and German soldiers exchange gifts in No Man’s Land during the first Christmas Eve of the war and sing Christmas carols. It is one of the most touching stories about the war and one that was never permitted to be repeated.

The characters are dressed in pierrot costumes to indicate, ironically of course, that this war is just a lot of fun, a lark in fact. The pierrot costumes are not worn by the army officers such as Sir John French and General Douglas Haig. The musical’s most savage treatment is saved for Haig who ordered massive attacks by British soldiers into German machine guns He was convinced that his decisions were guided by Providence and that he was doing God’s will.

The number of dead projected on a screen jars sharply with some of the songs but brings home the brutal results of some of the military decisions.

Oh What A Lovely War is a Brechtian musical and it needs to show the ugly side of the war more clearly. Several years ago Soulpepper produced Brecht’s Threepenny Opera and failed to evoke the grit and underlying ugliness of the situation. It was a sanitized version of the play and I had the same feeing about Oh What a Lovely War. At times it felt too much like a pleasant musical despite the satire and underlying brutality.

In other words if the war is to be presented as music hall entertainment if should show its teeth lest we miss the point.

Director Albert Schultz has chosen some Soulpepper stalwarts for the production as well as a number of Soulpepper Academy Artists. Oliver Dennis, Michael Hanrahan, Mike Ross and Marek Norman. They generated considerable energy and delivered an enjoyable production. If only it had teeth.

__________

Oh What A Lovely War by Joan Littlewood, Theatre Workshop et. al. opened n March 17 and ran until April 10, 2010 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

‘ART’ COMBINES INTELLIGENCE WIT AND LOTS OF LAUGHTER IN CANADIAN STAGE COMPANY PRODUCTION


‘Art’, the title of Yasmina Reza’s play is enclosed in single quotation marks to indicate that the word is used ironically. A work of art, a painting in this case, will play a significant role in the play but it will be the catalyst rather than the subject of the piece.

‘Art’ is a brilliant, witty, stimulating and humane play that is based on a very simple idea. Serge (Colin Mochrie), a dermatologist, buys a modern painting for a lot of money. The reaction of his two friends, Marc (Peter Donaldson) and Yvan (Evan Buliung) sets off a series of arguments that reveal a great deal about the men’s characters, their relations with each other and the nature and basis of friendship itself.

That is a lot of territory to cover in a play that lasts only eighty minutes without an intermission. Yet Reza and the current production by Canadian Stage succeed terrifically. The production builds up the humour of the play to gales of laughter and the underlying intelligence of the work and the complexity of the characters is never lost. This is damn good theatre.

Marc, the practical and domineering aeronautics engineer, controlled Serge’s tastes and perhaps thought. Serge has rebelled against that domination and expressed his independence by developing a taste for modern art that Marc finds incomprehensible. He in fact considers Serge’s painting shit.

Yvan is a pathetic character who has moved into the sale of office supplies, a job given to him by his fiancée’s uncle. He is spineless, an amoeba, as his friends call him, a conciliator and a man who wants to please people. When Serge and Marc argue his weak-kneed approach at conciliation causes them to turn on him rather than appreciate his docility.

Is friendship based on shared views and tastes or is it based on people sharing the views of one domineering person at the expense of their own or are human relations based on something more mysterious.

There are a couple of annoying things about the production. The play takes place successively in the apartments of the three characters. The three apartments are identical except for a painting on the wall. That is all that you need for the play.

For some reason director Morris Panych and Set and Costume Designer Ken MacDonald have added projections of the credits as well as black and white videos of the streets of Paris. The videos are shot from a moving vehicle and the Paris Opera and the Arc de Triomphe are recognizable as possible indicators of the part of town where the characters live. We see distorted images of the actors presumably looking through the keyhole at the arriving guests. This is totally out of keeping with the play.

The other annoying item is the pronunciation of the name Yvan. Whatever the pronunciation adopted by Panych for the actors it should be the same for all and all the time. All three of them at one time or another say something that sounds like Eevan, the last syllable being pronounced like a vehicle or Yvonne with the last syllable sounding like von in von Karajan. Get your act together, people.

All three actors provided polished performances. I will start by praising Buliung because Reza provides the poor schmuck with a long speech in which he outlines all the troubles that beset him from his approaching wedding to his whole life. Buliung performs it brilliantly bringing it to a pitch of emotional distress for the character and a summit of laughter for the audience.

Donaldson and Mochrie get great chances for comedy and intelligent repartee and they succeed superbly. Theatre for the thinking and laughing audience. No quotation marks needed.

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‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza opened on March 18 and ran until April 10, 2010 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. www.canstage.com

THE LUCKY CHILD - MARIANNE APOSTOLIDES NOVEL EXAMINES LIFE IN GREECE DURING WORLD WAR II



THE LUCKY CHILD
by Marianne Apostolides
204 pp. Mansfield Press, 2010.


Marianne Apostolides is the daughter and granddaughter of veterinarians. She is the author of The Lucky Child, a marvelous novel that pays tribute to both men through the prism of fiction and borrowed memories.

The novel is set in Greece between 1939 and 1943 although it opens in 1932, the year in which Taki is born, two months after his mother miscarries the first twin. Taki is, of course, the lucky child of the title.

Agamemnon, Taki’s father, is the chief veterinarian of a cavalry unit in Thessaloniki, an upright officer who uses his skills to help poor farmers.

Apostolides gives us vignettes of life in Thessaloniki before and during the war as well as descriptions of life in Zagora where Mary, Agamemnon’s wife, comes from. She uses light, sparing brush strokes. She does not go for lengthy Dickensian descriptions but is happy with economical delineations.

The story seems to be written largely from the viewpoint of Taki. He is almost seven years old when the novel begins and only eleven in the summer of 1943 when the story ends. There are certain events from childhood that stick in our minds vividly and the rest become images that we recall without too much context. This seems to hold true for our protagonist. For example, Taki recalls a number of people going by his house without too much detail but he recalls watching his father neutering of a horse quite vividly.

Apostolides tells the story through an omniscient narrator but when Taki is in the picture the view seems to be largely through his eyes or as it affects him. A good example of Apostolides prose style is her description of the tumultuous events of October 28, 1940 when Italy gave Greece an ultimatum and started invading the country in the wee hours of the morning.

The obvious choice would have been for Apostolides to come up with an outpouring of prose describing the Greek multitudes shouting “No. No, No” to Mussolini in an expression of rapturous patriotism. Instead she combines some banal acts like a boy pedaling past Taki on his bicycle, Taki being jostled by his mother’s arm and being nudged aside by neighbours. This is a level-headed and realistic description and thus more effective than prose in overdrive.

Another example of her spare, subtle narrative style is the announcement of the beginning of World War II when Germany invaded Poland. Taki is in the kitchen with his maternal grandmother. He hears the words Germany, Poland ,,, army … Hitler. The only word he understands is army because of his father and the image in his head of officers dancing in their uniforms at Easter.

Meanwhile the grandmother goes to the sink to clean some carrots. “Her shoulder blade pushed back and forth, repeatedly, back and forth” writes Apostolides. The grandmother knows exactly what is happening and what is coming and Apostolides expresses everything in a few words of simple description.

The everyday life of the Apostolides family and everyone in Greece is lived against the background of some of the most dramatic events in Greek history. First there was the declaration of war against Italy and the spectacular success of the Greek forces followed by the quick capitulation to the Nazis in April 1941. This led to the rise of the Greek resistance and the communist-dominated EAM/ELAS.

Privation and hunger followed and Apostolides provides a beautiful juxtaposition between a child’s view of reality and the mother’s knowledge. Mary does not give Taki another slice of bread because she does not want to spoil his appetite for the evening, she tells him. In the meantime she feels a sudden dizziness as she looks at the loaf of bread that would have to last another day for the entire family. No more is said. No more needs to be said.

Apostolides provides a few images to describe the life under the Nazi occupation: soldiers on the roof, the breadline, a man begging for cigarettes and food and Taki bumping into a body. It turns outs to be that of a woman, his former neighbour who is wearing a yellow star on her chest. Again no more needs to be said.

Sometimes I imagined the novel as a series of black and white photographs from the era. It is a series of images that pass across your eyes and stay there.

Apostolides’ chosen narrative method perhaps did not allow for detailed descriptions of Thessaloniki or Zagora during the war. In fact there is not a single street name mentioned and the setting could be any city in Greece.

I will not reveal what happened to Agamemnon but Taki, we are told in the Epilogue, went to America in 1949 and became a highly successful veterinarian. He was the impetus for the book and in trying to capture her father’s childhood, the author has created a work of fiction that tells the truth without being historically accurate. Her ability to create and recreate, to delineate and pay tribute and to evoke poetically the past and to fuse it with the present, makes one attribute the title of the novel to the author as well as her father.

Marianne Apostolides was born in Long Island, New York and graduated from Princeton University with a major in politics. She has lived in Toronto since 1997.

She has written a novel and not a history or a memoir but since she includes many dates it may be appropriate to correct some of her errors.

The Americans were not landing anywhere in the spring of 1941. They did not get into the war until the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Greek trains ran on coal and not on oil in the 1930’s.

Agamemnon and his officer friends claimed in the spring of 1942 (1941 according to the novel) that they had heard nothing from the Greek government-in-exile in Egypt for sixteen months. Since Greece was invaded in 1941, Apostolides clearly meant 1942. But even if we allow for the typo there are not 16 months between the spring of 1941 and the spring of 1942.

The novel ends in the summer of 1943. Apostolides enters the narrative directly in an Epilogue where she ties up some loose ends and explains her motivation for writing the story. It is just as much a story about life in Greece about seven decades ago as it is about the fate of Greek immigrants today. Taki Apostolides immigrated to the United States in 1949 and did not want to have anything to do with Greece until he was forced to return to his youth by a daughter whose connection to that country was very tenuous.

A few words about Taki’s older sister Loukia. At age 11, Loukia visits an army hospital and is sent to feed men who had limbs amputated. She gives them soup and water until she reaches a soldier, a boy of seventeen, who is too weak to take a drink. She dips her fingers in the water and places her fingertip in the man’s mouth. She tells him to drink and he does. It is a moment of marvelous magnanimity and beauty.

In another scene, Loukia appears as the writer and director of a play about Greek Independence in the platia of Zagora. She combines childish innocence and patriotic fervour as she leads the girls in an imitation of the Dance of Zalogos where the Suliote women with their children in their arms threw themselves off a cliff rather than endure slavery!

Loukia Apostolides is better known in Toronto as Lucy Grigoriades. The child is no doubt mother to the woman and many decades later Lucy remains an exemplar of volunteerism and service to the community with few equals.

The Lucky Child is a significant addition to the growing stock of literature by Greeks of the Diaspora and their descendants.

Monday, May 3, 2010

APARTMENT 2012 - WILD AND HILARIOUS COMEDY WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT IT

Sue Kelvin as Barbara and John Guerrasio as Sam in Aprtment 2012

Apartment 2012 is the unassuming title of a hilarious play which just ended its run at the White Bear Theatre in London. It may be safe to say that the likelihood of most people having heard of the play or the theatre is on the slender side.

The play is the product of the fertile and wild imagination of Julian Sims, a British actor and writer. Apartment 2012 is his second play and it opened at the White Bear on April 6, 2010.

A Jewish family from New York is living in Communist Russia. No, not the the Russia of the late Soviet Union but the Communist Russia of the future. The family survived the nuclear war that destroyed capitalism and is now living somewhere near the Black Sea where the Mafia is running things. For some reason, this part of the world is a low radiation region. That’s just the background.

Barbara (Sue Kelvin) is a classic Jewish wife and mother. She is short and portly, loud, colourful and funny. When someone refers to her as “fat and ugly” her husband helpfully indicates that she is not ugly.

Her husband Sam (John Guerrasio) works in a factory, tries to put up with his wife (including the fact that she screams like a hyena during sex) and looks after the side business of the little garden that he has where he is not growing rutabagas.

Sam and Barbara have a nice-looking son who has a mental disease (according to them) – he is gay and he is caught making love to his boyfriend behind the couch.

Soon enough the Mafia man arrives asking for his cut of Sam’s business. He is willing to forego the debt, however, if he can make love to Barbara. She agrees and convinces him to have sex with her on the balcony – the balcony that Sam never got around to fixing. No clues here but check the floor number of the title.

This is only a partial summary of this hilarious bit of theatre. Kelvin can play Jewish mamas with hilarious results any day of the week. Sam, short and slim is the antithesis of Barbara and the result of course is quite funny.

Drew Hunter as the son Victor is very good. Some of the Russian accents are uncertain although one can hardy argue with Andrei Zayats’ intonations – he is a real Russian. Sam and Barbara speak with a New York accent.

The White Bear Theatre is the back room of a pub. I am being precise. You can have beer and food at The White Bear Pub before the performance and during intermission.

The backroom of the pub is about the size of an average family room. There are two rows of seats in an L-shape and they hold about 50 people. The stated mission of The White Bear Theatre Club, established in 1988, is to focus on new writing and Lost Classics [sic]. Its very existence seems miraculous; its longevity a marvel and the quality of Apartment 2012, the only play that I have seen there, simply exceptional.
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Apartment 2012 by Julian Sims played until April 25, 2010 at The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London. SE11 4DJ. http://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

Saturday, May 1, 2010

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, IL TURCO IN ITALIA AND LA BOHEME – OPERA IN TORONTO, LONDON AND HAMILTON

Carla Huhtanen & Olivier Laquerre in The Marriage of Figaro from Opera Atelier
Photo: Bruce Zinger


The Marriage of Figaro in Toronto, La Boheme in Hamilton and Il Turco In Italia in London is not a bad selection of operas to see within a few days of each other.

Opera Atelier’s new production of Figaro is elegant, colourful, well-paced, beautifully sung and in English. Director Marshall Pynkoski has chosen to give a commedia dell’arte-inspired production with lots of humour including some well-placed slapstick.

Bass baritone Olivier Laquerre as Figaro led the wonderful cast. His Figaro is light-footed, fast-thinking and very funny. The tall and lithe Laquerre sang magnificently. Soprano Carla Huhtanen was his lively and intelligent Susanna with baritone Phillip Addis as Count Almaviva and Soprano Peggy Kriha Dye as the Countess, with each one doing excellent work. Well done but I wish they would do something about the Count’s haircut. Wallis Giunta made a lively Cherubino.

The production is sung in English and raises the issue of the language of opera. I am rather schizophrenic on the subject. I resent it when funny situations are lost because they are sung in a foreign language and complain when the musicality of Italian is lost in the guttural horrors of English. This production brings the issue into focus. The comedy is much better because we understand the language. The singing suffers and at times I felt that the singers had molasses in their mouth. Take for example the round o’s of “Dove Sono,” the Countess’s gorgeous aria. Now try singing the same melody to the words “I remember.” It’s like moving from the beautiful, rolling hills of Tuscany to the flat Prairies. There is a myriad of such examples.

Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg has choreographed several dances as an extra bonus. Conductor David Fallis maintains a measured pace with the Tafelmusik Orchestra in a first-rate production.

What do you do if you are tired of your wife and you want to get rid of her.? Well, if you are a Turk, you sell her. If you are Italian you punch the guy that wants her in the nose.

That at least is the advice given by Gioachino Rossini and his librettist Felice Romani in Il Turco In Italia, the hilarious comic opera now playing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London. There is much more such sage advice.

Rossini’s opera was first produced in 1814 but for some reason it has been overshadowed by his other works and is produced infrequently. That’s too bad

As the title suggests there is a Turk in Italy. Directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier have moved the action from the early 19th century to present day Naples. In fact most of the action takes place on the beach where you see cars and Vespa scooters parked on the sand.

Selim the Turk (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) is visiting Naples. There he finds his misplaced fiancée Zaida (Leah-Marian Jones), the gypsy, accompanied by a lot of other gypsies. The action will get in higher gear when Selim also meets the lovely but empty-headed Fiorilla (Aleksandra Kurzak). To make things more interesting (and to provide a job for a tenor), Fiorilla is also pursued by Don Narciso (Colin Lee), a local playboy. One need hardly add that Don Geronio, Fiorilla’s husband is quite upset about the goings on and he would like to take revenge.

These activities are supervised by a Poet who follows events with great interest because they will provide him with a plot for an opera that he wants to write.

Italian bass-baritone D’Arcangelo is superb as Selim. Tall, dark and handsome, he is just the type that would dazzle women, gypsy, Italian and otherwise. He is vocally well endowed and struts around the stage with panache.

Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak is the perfect foil for both Selim and her husband Don Geronio. She is pert, sassy, agile and the classic airhead. She sang gorgeously.

Much of the comedy in the opera is owed to Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Don Geronio. He is portly and has the expressive face that produces laughter. He has made a specialty of buffoonish characters but also sings a much broader repertoire. In any event, he was the hit of the evening.

The juicy male roles go to the lower voices in this opera but Rossini did cast Don Narciso, a sort of hanger-on, who does get a great aria and hits a high C. A good night for Colin Lee.

Thomas Allen at 66 is still younger than Placido Domingo and he is not ready to hang up his vocal chords. He plays the role of the supervisory Poet, a sort of ring-leader and commentator. He was suave and had no difficulty with the singing.

Set designer Christian Fenouillat chose simple, brightly coloured panels with a swath of blue in the middle to suggest the beach.

Leiser and Caurier used their imagination in providing a couple of plot twists at the end without interfering with the opera.

Conductor Maurizio Benini and the Royal Opera House orchestra kept a brisk pace as they inundated the hall with Rossini’s music.

Hamilton Opera finished its 30th season with Puccini’s La Boheme at Hamilton Place. Unfortunately, there were only two performances.

The evening belonged to tenor Roger Honeywell as Rodolfo. He was vocally and physically suited to the role and turned in a very good performance. I found Miriam Khalil a disappointing Mimi. Her voice did not seem big enough for Hamilton Place although she did display considerable emotion in “Donde lieta uscì” when she separates from Rodolfo.

Virginia Hatfield could have been a livelier Musetta and bass baritone Jon-Paul Decosse was not at his best as Colline.

One of the problems of the production was the set designed by Peter Dean Beck. The freezing garret is realistic enough but it does not cover the entire stage. Thus it looks like an ill-fitting structure that was plopped in the middle of the stage. The explanation may simply be that the set was borrowed and was designed for a different stage.

Michael Cavanagh directed the production and Cal Stewart Kellogg conducted the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and the result, despite the limitations imposed by a limited budget, was an enjoyable evening at the opera.

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The Marriage of Figaro by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, runs until May 1, 2010 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. http://www.operaatelier.com/
La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini was performed on April 22 & 24, 2010 at Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario L8P 4Y2. http://www.operahamilton.ca/

A WEEK AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE IN LONDON - Part 1

Simon Russell Beale in L0ndon Assurance

By James Karas
jameskaras@rogers.com

The National Theatre of Great Britain lists 14 productions on its three stages between March and June 2010 alone. You can probably see as many as half a dozen productions in one week and the breadth of works ranging from obscure classics to new plays is nothing less than impressive. To put it in context, you can see as many plays at the National Theatre in one week as the Canadian Stage Company produces in a whole season in Toronto.

My planned ten-day visit to London was extended somewhat by the ash spewed by that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland and I was able to see seven plays at the National Theatre alone.

The plays ranged from a 17th century tragedy (Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton) to a new futuristic play about dementia (Really Old, Like Forty Five by Tamsin Oglesby). In between there was a 19th century Irish comedy (London Assurance by Dion Boucicault), an early play by Tennessee Williams (Spring Storm), new plays by Alan Bennett (The Habit of Art) and David Hare (The Power of Yes) and a play by Mikhail Bulgakov (The White Guard). Now there is breadth and depth in the choice of plays.

THE WHITE GUARD


Bulgakov’s play takes place in Kiev during the civil war in Ukraine in the winter of 1918-1919 following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Bulgakov (1881-1940) was born in Kiev and lived to see some adulation and a great deal of derision during Stalin’s regime. The play was first produced in 1926 under a different title and Stalin liked it so much he saw it 20 times.

Bulgakov combines the personal lives of the Turbin family with the chaotic political situation and civil war brilliantly. Alexei Turbin (Daniel Flynn) is an officer in the Tsarist White Guard. His sister Elena (Justine Mitchell) is married to the pro-German Deputy Minister of War (Kevin Doyle). He works for The Hetman (Anthony Calf), the Ukrainian puppet of the occupying Germans.

The Hetman flees to Germany, Ukrainian Nationalists take over, the Bolsheviks arrive, there are numerous changes of regime and chaos and brutality reign.

The National does not shirk from war scenes that are extremely well done and are juxtaposed with scenes at home. This is theatre on a grand scale (really medium scale for the National) where an extraordinary cast provides a splendid theatrical experience all directed by Howard Davies.

LONDON ASSURANCE

If the civil war in Ukraine is too depressing there is much lighter fare in Dion Boucicault’s London Assurance. Ontarians will remember that the play was staged by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2006 as a vehicle for Brian Bedford.

The production at the National is almost pitch-perfect. It is directed by Nicholas Hytner and with the likes of Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Nick Sampson and Richard Briers it is comedy at its best.

The plot is as old as comedy itself. Sir Harcourt Courtly (Beale), an old fop from the city goes to the country to marry Grace (Michelle Terry), a teenage heiress. His son Charles (Paul Ready) and his bizarre friend Dazzle (Matt Cross) precede him to the country and Charles falls in love with Grace.

Boucicault treats us to some eccentric country folk like the beautifully named Lady Gay Spanker (Fiona Shaw), the gruff Max Harkaway (Mark Addy) and the doltish but hilarious Mr. Spanker played to wonderful effect by the now elderly Richard Briers.

Beale is simply a master comic. He can pose, do double-takes, preen and just take a few steps and have the audience laughing. A marvel.

My only complaint is about Grace, the lovely, sassy and sexy heiress who knows what she wants and how to get it. Terry can handle the role and her delivery of lines is impeccable. But Grace has to be a pretty maiden over whom fools and gallants would swoon. The almost-flat-chested and toothy Michelle Terry is pretty unlikely to turn heads or hormones in her direction.

Nick Sampson has the relatively minor role of the servant Cool. He is hilarious. He can get a laugh by simply staring and with his utter snobbishness and nose-up-in-the air demeanour he is the perfect example of a good actor maximizing the effect of a small role.

SPRING STORM

Tennessee Williams wrote Spring Storm in 1937 while a student at the University of Iowa. It was found with his papers in 1984. This is the play’s European premiere.

This is youthful Williams and the play is interesting both for its intrinsic value and as a precursor of what was to come from the great playwright. Most of the characters in Spring Storm will re-appear in his later work, more fully developed.

Williams goes for a dramatic setting from the start with the play opening on a windy bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. It is called Lover’s Leap.

The play is centred around the aptly named Heavenly Critchfield (played by the talented Liz White), a young and sexually attractive woman from a small town called Port Tyler on the Mississippi River.

Dick Miles (Michael Thomson) is a young man who is in love with Heavenly and wants to get away from Port Tyler. He is not well-educated and the best job he may be able to get will be as a labourer with the government.

His antithesis is Arthur Shannon (Michael Malarkey), rich, well educated but with some problems of sexual identity. He went to Oxford University but in his childhood he was hounded by his classmates and called a sissy. Heavenly witnessed a dramatic name-calling scene and did nothing about it. The experience still haunts Shannon.

Heavenly’s opposite is Hertha Neilson (Anna Tolputt), who is homely, lacks social status (her mother is a seamstress) and is dying for some attention and affection.

These four people interact with the citizens of Port Taylor. Heavenly is put under considerable pressure to marry Arthur as she is pursued by and has sex with Dick.

The play tends towards verbosity. Scenes go on after we have got the message and there is the tendency towards melodrama. Nevertheless, director Laurie Sansom has delivered a superb production of a play that deserved to be seen.

THE POWER OF YES

David Hare’s play The Power of Yes bears the subtitle “A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis.” That’s very nice, Dave, but why do you assume that we care what you are seeking to understand or if you achieve your goal it will be of interest to us. More importantly, how is that understanding, so eagerly sought by you, going to translate into good theatre?

To be fair, Hare has done a lot of research and talked to many important players in the financial and industrial sectors. Just as many either refused to talk to him or he neglected to get an interview with them. I suspect it was the former.

Before putting his ideas and research down on paper for a stage play, Hare should have offered the fruits of his efforts to say 60 Minutes or the fifth estate. These are well-funded network programmes that are capable of doing investigative journalism of the best kind.

Instead what we get is investigative journalism on stage. Twenty actors represent a couple of dozen (I am not sure of the exact number) known and unknown players in the events leading up to the financial crisis. The Author appears as a character (played well by Anthony Calf) and most of the other people appear as “talking heads” or more accurately “running bodies” on stage that need to be identified to us.

Many of the people he presents refused to have their identity disclosed and we have characters like “A Hedge Fund Manager,” “The Chair of a Mortgage Lender,” “A Leading Industrialist” and so on.

Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Fund appears in a video projection only and only his lips are shown. There are a few Americans including Myron Scholes but most of the talkers are British. The problem here is that the financial collapse was largely an American creation. The British followed suit as did Iceland and much of Europe. The Royal Bank of Scotland through its megalomaniacal CEO Sir Frederick Goodwin became a major player in the disaster almost single-handedly bringing the British economy to its knees.

George Soros, billionaire, philosopher, philanthropist (when you have $11 billion in your piggy bank how difficult can it be to become a philanthropist?) gets good press because he obviously agreed to talk to Hare.

A lot of people run on and off the stage making statements, explaining, defending, debunking. You do get a lot on information in the one hour and forty-minutes that the show runs but this is not particularly good theatre. Call BBC, CBS or CBC.

I will review the rest of the plays in a future article.